The study of accent is related to word and language pronunciation that can be linked to a social class, a nationality, a part of the world, or a historic time period. Accent can be characterized as an “identifier” based on sound and sound production rather than visual cues. Accent is thus linked to fields such as linguistics and pronunciation, language education, drama, literature and performance, sound studies, disability studies (communication disorders to hearing to speech), as well as to sociology and global studies (how do people speak and understand each other in different parts of the world and across geographical borders), to nationalism (how does language bring communities and societies together), and to media (how is communication presented and how is language received). Phonetic literacy (as studied by socio-linguists) involves subcategories such as speech and accent (from access to learning English by non-native speakers to the ability to speak English), dialect (variations of English based on geography), and slang. A cultural and interdisciplinary study of accents allow for inquiries about national community that move beyond legal and geographical forms of community and identity. Looking at accents emphasize the linguistic and sonic components of American global cultural values that are present in media representation, performance, and the politics of social relations. In particular, the study of Asian American accents in popular culture lies at the intersection of interpretations of text and sound where standard American English (the language taught in American schools) is positioned as the normative mode of communication and the criterion that non-native speakers are often judged upon in American culture. An accent is both a phonetic and visual means of interpreting the assimilation of immigrants in general, and Asians, more specifically, in relation to themes of American citizenship. Focusing on accent allows for a linguistic and narrative composition of how racial difference goes beyond a visual physical difference and is embedded in the systemic nature of how race and privilege operate in culture. Asian American and South Asian American vocal accents and other kinds of cultural “accents” offer an alternative approach to discuss American racial and ethnic performances because the notion of an accent is also inherently comparative. Accents appear only in comparison to what is considered normal or accepted universal speech, such as Standard American English. An accent can mark or distinguish someone or something in relation to something else or a prevailing norm. An accent can create contrast by its very difference. For Asian Americans, identifying how speech and communication is represented and produced in media and culture is a primary means of characterizing what is not only considered different but also what is seen to be foreign or outside definitions of American national identity. The media representations of Asian Americans exaggerate physical differences from a white American mainstream identity and dwell on alternative cultural values and behaviors that include accent and language.
What is Asian American popular music? How do we identify it, define it, and listen to it? What work is being done by naming a genre as such, and need it even be named? Asian Americanist scholars and music critics have grappled with these questions, articulating the political desires for Asian American representation, recognition, and inclusion, while at the same time remaining wary of how such desires reiterate liberal multiculturalist discourses of assimilation and inclusion. A growing body of interdisciplinary work in American studies, performance studies, critical race and ethnic studies, queer studies, and sound and popular music studies has addressed the historical emergence, visibility, and representation of Asian Americans in popular music. This work has become less concerned with finding out what “Asian American popular music” is and more interested in how Asian Americanist critique can be rooted in minoritarian listening practices so that one might consider the myriad ways Asian Americans—as professional and amateur performers, musicians, virtuosic singers, karaoke goers, YouTube users, listeners, critics, and fans—actively shape and negotiate the soundscapes of US popular music with its visual, sonic, and other sensorial markers of Asian racialization.
The concept of remediation, as elaborated by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in Remediation: Understanding New Media (1999), is premised on the notion that media are best understood in interaction rather than in isolation. Every artistic medium, they argue, orients itself in relation to another medium, whether respectfully—as in the case of an online literary database that seeks to provide easy access to faithful facsimiles of manuscripts—or competitively—as with a videogame that seeks to replace the linearity and passivity of print with open-ended interactivity. Bolter and Grusin describe individual media in turns of two basic impulses: immediacy, or the attempt to erase the mediating function and present the illusion of directly represented reality; and hypermediacy, or the attempt to foreground the mediating function, exposing the impossibility of direct representation. They employ the same vocabulary to describe the interaction of media. Every act of remediation—every representation of one medium in another—necessarily involves both immediacy and hypermediacy. A digital edition of a literary text grants access to the words of the original print artifact (immediacy), yet by including audio readings and video commentary draws attention to its digital-specific affordances (hypermediacy). A digital archive gathers together high-resolution, color-accurate reproductions of materials scattered in rare-book libraries around the world (immediacy), yet by granting free and instantaneous access to these precious, fragile objects, fundamentally transforms the experience of engaging with their analog originals (hypermediacy). Insisting that one approach media through interaction, Bolter and Grusin’s theory of remediation positions the movement of content from one medium to another as a form of translation—a transformative act in which much is lost as well as gained.